I'd always had a romantic notion about spending Thanksgiving dinner at a cottage overlooking a lake. I visualized a blazing fireplace; all of us taking turns slowly basting the turkey, with the mixed aroma from baked goods lingering in the air.
There was only one problem, a minor detail it seemed. We didn't own a cottage. I began searching the Internet for one to rent. I eventually reserved one that was advertised as a "winterized cottage situated in a serene and picturesque location offering private views of beautiful Lake Erie."
My idea was not met with the eagerness that I anticipated from my family. My youngest son, a teenager, refused to come. A weekend with the folks stuck at some cottage was just not “cool.” My oldest son didn't care as long as there was going to be "lots of food." My husband was not very enthusiastic either. The mere mention of a cottage brought up old feelings of sorrow for him. After his Dad passed away, the family cottage in Algonquin Park had been sold. Somehow Lake Erie didn't cut it for him. I was determined to make this weekend memorable.
Thanksgiving seemed to be the right time for me to try to make amends with my estranged parents. I invited them for the dinner. They didn't get back to me; I assumed they weren't coming.
Arriving, we could see the whitecaps on the lake and felt a seasonal bitterness to the wind. Unlocking the front door of the cottage we were immediately struck with a strange smell.
After unpacking, we sat down to enjoy a drink. Most beach cottages are furnished with garage sale treasures. I sat in a floral swivel chair; it only turned part way. My husband sat on the sagging plaid couch. We laughed as we took in the surroundings, the decorative kitsch.
What’s that smell?
Our son took a shower. An overwhelming foul odor drifted into the living room. We could hear him muttering about the strong smell of the water. Toweling off we heard him swearing. The water had made his earrings and rings turn black. He later noticed a note about the water and its effects on silver in the 'Rules for the Cottage' pasted on the back of the bathroom door. It was sulphur and the smell was appalling. It was Friday evening but I decided to make the dinner the next day and not wait for Sunday since the turkey was almost thawed. I was certain that the scent of roasting turkey would dispel the rotten egg odor.
I got up early, and turned on the oven. I tried a new method to roast, according to what I'd read in a magazine, cooking the turkey at a high temperature for a couple of hours, then turning the oven down, resulting in a perfectly cooked bird. I stuffed it and then lifted it into one of those disposable aluminum roasting pans. I opened the oven and realized that it was too small for the pan. I hadn't considered the oven size. The turkey was too big. My husband took the racks out of the oven and scrunched up the aluminum pan as tight as he could against the bird, covered it with foil and jammed it into the oven.
I prepared the vegetables but there were only two pots and no lids. I improvised by putting the potatoes, turnips and squash cubes into the one large pot, filling it with the sulphur water. I told my husband that the gravy would cover up any different taste that might occur during the cooking.
Leaving the turkey in the oven, we drove into town, noticing dark storm clouds moving across the lake. By the time we got to town it was raining. On our return trip, it was snowing, not part of my idyllic fantasy.
Driving up the slippery laneway, we were assaulted by an ear piercing high pitched sound coming from the cottage. We ran in to find smoke pouring from the oven. The pot containing the vegetables was steaming. The intense heat from the oven had caused the water to boil even though the burner was not turned on. Instead of the anticipated aroma of a roasting turkey, all that filled the air was a sick burning smell mixed with the sulphur.
There were no oven mitts. My husband ran into the bathroom and grabbed towels, using them to pull the bird out of the oven. The aluminum pan was too hot to handle and he dropped the turkey onto the floor. Using a spatula, we managed to get the bird to the counter. When we lifted the foil, the top half of the blackened bird came with it -- so much for my new method of roasting.
Instead of sitting at a decorated table as visualized, the three of us crammed around the small drop-leaf table attached to the wall, supported by one leg .The burnt taste was all through the bird and the vegetables were ruined. I looked at my son and then my husband and said, "OK, that's it! We're out of here." They both sighed in relief.
Several years have since passed and every Thanksgiving dinner, as we gather around the table, someone will say, "Remember the year Mom booked that cottage" and then the “turkey jokes” begin.
The funny thing was though that my “estranged” relatives did show up at that cottage on the Sunday, expecting a turkey dinner. When we weren't there, they had the owners track us down to make sure we were safe. That event was the ”icebreaker.” So for that I am forever thankful. The not-so-happy Thanksgiving turned out to be a blessing in an unusual way.
By Gloria Troyer
Gloria Troyer is an award winning freelance writer/broadcaster/author who lives in Guelph, Ontario. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.